Within two days of his father Bhagat Ram Dogra’s death, he was pushed out of the house in Sundernagar, Himachal Pradesh by cousins, who realised Kumar needed to urgently turn his attention and persuaded him to join the camp.
Ashish Kumar’s eyes became moist as he brushed aside Maikhel Roberrd Muskita of Indonesia 5-0 to confirm his place for the Tokyo Olympics (75kg) at the Asian Olympic qualifiers in Jordan on Sunday. With folded hands he looked up and then kneeled and touched the ring floor with his forehead for another round of thanksgiving. The emotional outpouring was a tribute to his father, who died a month earlier. Kumar had not been able to focus on his training at the national camp after the bereavement. Within two days of his father Bhagat Ram Dogra’s death, he was pushed out of the house in Sundernagar, Himachal Pradesh by cousins, who realised Kumar needed to urgently turn his attention and persuaded him to join the camp.
“Had it not been for my family, I would not have got the strength to fight in the Olympic qualifiers. I feel very sad my father is not there to see this day. My father was everything to me and it was he who nursed the dream of seeing me compete in the Olympics,” Kumar told Hindustan Times.
“I feel so sad that he could not see this moment, share the happiness. My father has struggled a lot to make me a boxer. Financially, it was a huge effort because he had not been keeping well for some years and still somehow managed my expenses.
“There were days when I told him I want to quit but he never allowed me to. My father was a national kabaddi player and he kept encouraging me at every step,” said Kumar.
It took him some days to toughen himself mentally and focus on the job at hand. “My family sent me back to the camp but I was not in a right frame of mind. It was as if the world had collapsed. My focus drifted away from the Olympics. My brother and sister (cousins) kept pushing me to focus (saying) that I need to do it for my father.”
In the quarter-final bout against Muskita, Kumar boxed as if his life depended on it. The Indonesian threw a tough challenge in the first round. In the second and third rounds though Kumar shifted gears and attacked relentlessly.
“The first round is not my strong point. I was trying to gauge his game. In the next two rounds, I was effectively countering him for every punch of his,” he said.
The tall and robust Kumar is more confident of his long-range punches now. Early in his junior days, when results were not coming his way, Kumar constantly questioned his style. He was losing confidence in his boxing.
“Everything changed once I won at the national games in Kerala in 2015 and came to the national camp. Before that I had given up all hope that I could represent India. I used to be so confused about my style. I used to play long-range and attack but I was losing and doubting myself. I thought I was not good enough to be an international boxer,” he said.
As results started to come gradually, Kumar became more assured of his game. He made a fresh start and worked hard to overcome his shortcomings. 2019 was a breakthrough year. He did well at a round-robin event in Germany before winning silver at the Asian Championships and then gold at the Thailand Open. However, he could not secure a Tokyo Olympics berth at the World Championships.
“I prepared hard after the world championships and was determined to book a berth here. This is an effort of 13-14 years and the sacrifice and hard work of my father that I qualified for Tokyo. Now I want to return with a medal from Tokyo.”